Syrian crisis has provided significant stimulus for the Saudi kingdom to act quickly to bring all West Asian Muslim powers under one strategic umbrella that, in turn, led to Saudi king to resort to active shuttle diplomacy in the region, shoring up support for a peaceful Mideast. Arab world has been in turmoil for years now, sacrificing millions of Muslims without any real cause.
There have been a series of visits by Saudi leaders, including the king Salman himself, to Turkey and Egypt to expand the Saudi’s diplomatic profile in the region. King Salman’s recent first ever visit to Egypt plays important role in streamlining the Saudi led Mideastern relations in general.
Unlike Turkey which is focused on establishment of Palestine state at the earliest and containing of Israeli arrogance and military aggression with a legal framework, Egypt, supporting Israeli aggression and creating joint terror blockades around Palestine, thereby making the Palestinians feel suffocation, seeks economic assistance from Saudi Arabia.
Turkey pursues friendly policy towards Saudi Arabia and Iran and seeks Egyptian help to make the Mideast tension free and free from illegally nuclearized Israeli aggression.
Saudi Arabia’s King cum PM Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz concluded a five-day visit to Egypt on April 11, before he left for Saudi Arabia. King Salman arrived in Cairo on April 07 on his first official state visit to Egypt since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015. Saudi king Salman was greeted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi upon arrival. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution, on Saturday. The Saudi leader delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Salman previously visited Egypt’s southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015 for an Arab League summit.
During his five-day visit, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country and the two sides signed four agreements worth roughly 22 billion dollars. As the latest Saudi policy, the Saudi king called for Egyptian cooperation against extremism and terrorism. The visit comes at a time when Egypt is suffering political and economic pressures due to years of domestic political turmoil that led to economic recession and security challenges resulting from regional chaos.
The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour. Among the agreements signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the visit are those related to housing projects in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, the establishment of King Salman University in Tur town of South Sinai, the development of Egypt’s largest public hospital Qasr al-Aini, the building of a power station in western Cairo and the formation of a joint investment fund with a capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals -about 16 billion dollars. “All these agreements show the seriousness of the Saudi side to support the Egyptian economy, as there will be capital flow to Egypt which means there will be more employment and economic movement in the country in the near future.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived on Thursday in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour.
For his part, Sissi transferred to the Saudis sovereignty of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The two uninhabited islands that Sissi gave to the Saudi king are of enormous strategic importance, lying at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba from where it can control access to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba, Israel’s Port of Eilat. Sissi went out on a political limb to gift the two islands to the Saudis, a very unpopular move among Egyptians.
The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” In a show of support for President General Abdel-Fatteh Al-Sissi, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country. For his part, Sissi transferred sovereignty to the Saudis of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The Saudi king called for cooperation against extremism and terrorism.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. (Such honors have become a customary phenomenon in bilateral visits as a sign of willingness on the part of the host nation for future ties)
The Saudi investors show awareness that their investment in Egypt today is investment in the future, because politically Egypt represents a political weight and strategic depth for the Gulf region, and economically investments in Egypt are promising and fruitful.
However, Saudi investment in Egypt is nothing new, as Saudi business tycoons have been investing in the country over the past few decades. Today, it is the Saudi government that pumps investments into Egypt, which is a new and positive aspect and an indicator of the soundness and healthiness of the investment environment in Egypt, Saleh explained.
Sisi in Riyadh
Before taking over power in Cairo, Sissi had illegally toppled the first ever elected president of Egypt Mohammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood in a bloodless coup and established his residency with support from Saudi Arabia and USA, among others.
The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Earlier, Egyptian President Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had visited the kingdom in 2015 for economic support. On 02 March 2015, visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues before discussing the economic package for Egypt. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.
Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Egypt is currently providing naval support to the coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants. Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.
Later, on 15 April 2015, during a Saudi minister’s visit to Cairo, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.
During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Saudi King Abdullah expressed support for Hosni Mubarak. “No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred. As they condemn this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and government declares it stands with all its resources with the government of Egypt and its people.” He condemned the “people who tried to destabilize the security and stability of Egypt.
On 10 May 2012, ambassador Kattan announced that the kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia will also export $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.
Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s first official visit was to Saudi Arabia in July 2012, although his views are not fully aligned with those of the Saudi government. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi stated that Saudi Arabia is a pragmatic country and that whoever the president of Egypt is, Saudi government is aware of the fact that it has to maintain good relations with this country.
Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. On 10 May 2012, the Saudi kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia also exports $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.
Saudi Arabia has been the key backer of al-Sisi since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass protests against his one-year rule. It has pumped billions of dollars to help and invest into Egypt’s battered economy. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution; the Saudi leader also delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.
According to Saudi Press Agency, on 02 March 2015, the visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia on 15 April 2015 agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.
Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. In return for economic aid, Egypt is currently providing naval support to the Saudi led coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants.
Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.
In the years immediately after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were cordial, though driven by mutual suspicion of the Hashemites reigning in Jordan and especially Iraq at the time, and continuing from an anti-Hashemite alliance formed by King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Farouk of Egypt and President Shukri al-Quwatli of Syria after the foundation of the Arab League in 1945. Subsequently President Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Saud of Saudi Arabia co-operated to limit the reach of the Baghdad Pact, which they felt was designed to increase the influence of Hashemite Iraq. As a result, the two countries signed a bilateral military pact in 1955, and worked to successfully prevent Jordan from joining the Baghdad Pact.
Egypt came to have extensive involvement in the Saudi army, economy and education system. However the alliance was undermined by Saudi anxieties about the Egyptian government’s promotion of anti-monarchical forces in the Arab World, including the uncovering of an Egyptian-style Saudi Free Officers Movement and increasing labor unrest, Egypt’s increasing shift towards the Soviet Union, and efforts by Iraq and its western allies including the United States to drive a wedge between the two countries.
Under President Nasser, Egypt, backed by the Soviet Union, came to represent the Non-Aligned Movement and pan-Arabism, and was a nominal advocate of secularism and republicanism. The Saudis by contrast were strong supporters of absolute monarchy and Islamist theocracy, and were generally close to the governments of the United Kingdom and USA.
By 1958 this deterioration in the relationship apparently had led to King Saud offering a bribe of £1.9 million to Abdel Hamid al-Sarraj, the head of Syrian intelligence at the time and later Vice-President of the United Arab Republic, to secure the assassination of Nasser. An era of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia set in, negatively impacting the pan Arab nationalism.
Arrival of Mubarak as Egyptian leader tried to put the bilateral ties with Saudi back to normal footing. Unlike the situation at the time of Nasser, Mubarak’s Egypt – a conservative dictatorship closely allied with Washington – no longer represented an ideological or political polar opposite to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there remained mutual suspicion and a rivalry between the two countries, both aspiring to preeminence in the Arab World in general and among the Arab allies of the US in particular. Saudi’s preeminence remained intact, however.
Egypt has been in need of the economic push because the country is suffering declining foreign currency reserves, shortage of US dollars and low investment growth rates. All these investments will have a very positive effect on Egypt and it needs them at least until the end of 2016 to evaluate the investments based on how much funds will have been pumped into Egypt, what investments will have been initiated, etc.
After the 2011 turmoil, the economic growth was as low as 1.5 percent and it gradually increased until it reached 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year and is expected to reach 5.5 percent in the coming fiscal year as the government stated, which shows that Egypt is on the rise economically,” the political economy professor illustrated. Over the past five years, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves declined from 36 billion US dollars in 2011 to 16.5 billion dollars as of end of March 2016, and the government is currently struggling to reduce an ongoing budget deficit of about 36 billion dollars.
The Saudi Egypt rivalry manifested itself, for example, when President Barack Obama made a major tour of the Middle East in 2009, soon after assuming power. The Saudis resented Obama’s choice of Cairo as the venue for making a key policy speech, and State Department officials made an effort to mollify the Saudi leadership by following up the Cairo speech with a high-profile Presidential visit to the Saudi capital.
The USA views Mideast with Israel playing the central role. Obama also shamelessly continued the traditional US policy for essentially fascist Israeli, though in a low key. He also visited Israel and enjoyed life with Jewish criminals, invited them to White House for “talks’. The democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is wooing the strong Jewish lobbyists in USA and Israeli regime as well to support her candidature.
Egypt has been facing Western political pressure, particularly from Italy, after the recent death of an Italian young student Giulio Regeni in Cairo and Italy’s suspicion of the involvement of the Egyptian police in the tragedy, to the point that the Western country recalled its ambassador to Cairo for consultations. Saudi King’s visit has a political dimension, as it indicates a sort of support to Egypt amid some political challenges, including the case of Italian Giulio Regeni’s death in Cairo.
Egypt has conducted feasibility studies for these Saudi projects to ensure their benefit to the Egyptian economy. When the Saudi funds are transferred to Egypt, they will positively affect the value of the US dollar compared to the Egyptian pound as they will increase the currency reserves at the Egyptian central bank, and if they do not devaluate the dollar, they will at least stop the current deterioration of the Egyptian pound.
The just concluded five-day visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Egypt represents Riyadh’s willingness for political and economic support for Cairo to overcome its current challenges. The visit saw the signing of agreements of Saudi investments in Egypt worth about 25 billion US dollars, and joint projects.
Saudi investments in Egypt may lead to more Gulf investments in Egypt, since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are greatly interrelated politically and economically. However, Saudi Arabia has to focus on a very important issue- establishment of Palestine in Mideast. True, so long as Israel is in Mideast, it won’t allow Palestine to get UN recognition as a full state, though it has won defacto recognition in the UN general assembly against the will of US-Israeli twins.
Saudi Arabia has been strenuously making efforts to free Palestine from Israeli terror regime but without any success. Israel and Egypt are jointly causing existential problems with terror blockades from both sides for the besieged Palestinians and Gaza Strip where the Hamas rules is the prime target of Israeli military, attacking it regularly on fictitious pretexts. Even turkey’s efforts to breach the blockades to free Gaza Strip have ended in Israeli military attacks on the Turkish aidships.
It is a fact that Israeli aggression on Palestine territories continue with its military using US terror goods and Pentagon services. Israel and its major terror ally USA very conveniently use the Hamas-Fatah conflict to divide the Palestinians and create obstacles for the establishment of much delayed Palestine state.
Saudi kingdom could use its new friendship with Egyptian regime to remove the blockade from its side so that Palestinians could begin to live human life. Giving justice to the Palestinians should be the key objective of new Saudi Egyptian relations.
Saudi-Egyptian ties are bound to grow in strength and depth with increasing number of mutual visits from both sides at high levels. Economic and security ties will gather momentum.
Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.
During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers. The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.
Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.
Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).
Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.
Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan. She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.
Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.
During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world.
In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.
Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.
Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.
Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.
Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:
” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”
On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:
“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”.
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
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